06 Jul 2011

Going the extra mile for the boss

I must confess to being slightly sport obsessed, using sporting references in training and facilitation, so it is no real surprise that it ends up in my blog as well.

Last night saw the Queensland Maroons defeat the NSW Blues again, resulting in a 6th straight series win for Queensland. It also marked the last time the Maroons captain, Darren Lockyer, would play in a State of Origin series. A very proud night to come from Queensland! (A separate article could be ‘Why does the performance of a team I have no direct involvement or influence over –despite my cheering – make me feel so good?’)

After the game, several of the Queensland players said that they wanted to make the night special so that ‘they could send ‘Locky’ out on a high’ or that they were ‘doing it for Locky’. These comments stood out for me, because they weren’t coming from a rookie player that idolised the hero that they were lucky enough to play with in his final game. These comments came from NRL captains, Grand final winning players and captains, including the Australian rugby league captain.

My point is, ‘What makes you put in selfless effort for the boss, and have you felt the same thing for your boss?’

Being an officer in the Air Force provided me with the opportunity to work with some amazing people. Due to the posting cycle, it also afforded me with the opportunity to work with and observe 12 different Commanding Officers. Of those 12, there was only 2 that made me feel the way those Queensland players feel for Darren Lockyer.

The business unit that I worked in (my dream job) was not well regarded in the Air Force and had been led poorly for a number of years. Yet after less than 1 year, Wing Commander Paul Way had instilled a ‘fire in the belly’ for all that worked for him, rallying the unit to work together in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Everyone had ‘got on board’ with his vision for the future, and his style was such that everyone not only liked him, but respected him as well.

The amazing thing is, looking back, I don’t think Paul Way was an exceptional visionary leader. What he did do was a large number of small, personally important things, very well.

I heard renowned chef Marco Pierre White say (on Masterchef – but it is a great quote!) that perfection is a number of small things done exceptionally well. Paul Way provided me with a first hand demonstration of leadership perfection.

He did the small things like:

–       remembering everyone’s name on only his second day at the unit (a unit of more than 60 people).

–       Tapping into and rekindling passing conversations he had with staff weeks before and remembering every detail, and following up with progress.

–       Providing a day of leave (where operationally possible) for people on their birthday to spend with their family.

–       Asking each and every staff member what they thought worked and didn’t work in the unit and then putting in a plan of action to address them. Simple questions, like:

  • What is working at the unit and shouldn’t be changed?
  • What isn’t working?
  • What is one annoying thing that, if I could take it away, would make your life easier?

Not a new concept, but Paul actually did it, and then fed back the progress to the person that suggested it as well as the unit as a whole. He also followed through and got rid of a lot of those ‘annoying things’ and made you feel like what you thought mattered.

Even my wife loved him! Formal military dinners can be awkward sometimes – the person you refer to as ‘Sir’ or ‘Maam’ at work has a first name that your partner will use during the evening, but you won’t. After our first formal dinner with Paul Way, my wife said ‘he is the first person to do that’. After enquiring, my wife loved him because he was the first person to try and make the formalities seem less awkward, and introduced himself simply as Paul, and referring to her by name. Simple I know, but more impressive because I hadn’t spoken to him about my wife – he had taken it upon himself to learn partner’s names before the event.

I realised that when I worked for Paul Way, I actually wanted to go to work. I felt a drive and energy to do a better job that I had felt only once before (working for a similarly inspirational leader) – it was almost as if I wanted to do a better job to please him. When he left the job less than a year later, it almost felt as if a death had occurred in the family and sadly, the next 2/3 Commanding officers couldn’t fill that inspirational void in the way that Paul Way had. My hope is that the Queensland players don’t feel that same void when Darren Lockyer leaves their team.

I used many of the techniques that Paul demonstrated to try and be a better leader myself, and use many examples and simple ideas he introduced when I facilitate leadership training for Managers. I owe a large debt to Paul Way for showing me that you could be a tough, uncompromising leader in a demanding industry, yet still show your human side and demonstrate genuine care for your people.

So my question is: Do you feel about your boss the way that I do for Paul Way, or the way the Queensland players feel for Darren Lockyer? What could your boss start doing / stop doing to inspire you to do better and work selflessly for them?